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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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81-Year-Old Native Woman Creates Dictionary Of Her Tribe's Language
by Native American Stuff

In the U.S., more than 130 Native American languages are endangered, and some are spoken by only a handful of people. Marie Wilcox is the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language.

Marie Wilcox

At 81 years old, the great-grandmother is one of only 200 Wukchumni left living in the San Joaquin Valley of California and has taken it upon herself to revive the language.

The process has taken seven years and required Wilcox to learn to use a computer. "I'm just a pecker, one word at a time," she said. "When I had all these words together, I thought it would be a good idea to try to make a dictionary."

Wilcox raised her own daughter, Jennifer, speaking English. "I left my Indian language behind when my grandma died," Wilcox said.

When her sisters started to try to teach the kids Wukchumni, Marie found herself remembering more and more of the language.

She and her grandson Donovan — a quick study in the language — are now trying to record the dictionary, from A to Z.

Marie, Jennifer and Donovan can all be seen in a short documentary film Marie's Dictionary, from the Global Oneness Project.

Wilcox hopes that her tribe's members will be able to access her linguistic resource and attempt to speak Wukchumni for themselves. "See, I'm uncertain about my language and who wants to keep it alive," Wilcox reflects in the above documentary by the Global Oneness Project. "Just a few.

No one seems to want to learn. It's sad." However, Wilcox keeps at the dictionary, and continues teaching a weekly Wukchumni class to members of her tribe—showing that the language has a chance of surviving as long as there are tireless advocates like her.

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